Perfecting Brahms

Preparing for the Lincoln Center Chamber Music Competition


Sofia Mahairas

Blake Frank ’20, the pianist, practicing his part for the piece.

“A symphony is no joke,” composer Johannes Brahms once said, but the same can be said for a piano quintet, a piece of music written for a piano and four other instruments.  Five Bronx Science musicians know this quite well. Students Ruby Hogue ’20, Caroline Odia ’20, Blake Frank ’20, Emilee Kitmahawong ’20, and Judge Sanchez ’19 are playing the Brahms Piano Quintet in F minor Op 34 for the Lincoln Center Chamber Music competition.  What separates this group from other chamber groups is that they’ve chosen to form a group of five. A five person group is a departure from the traditional grouping of two or three. “This is the first time they have decided to form one,” said Mr. Paul DeSilva, a music teacher and the advisor to the group. “It is more challenging, because the more players you involve, the harder it is to schedule rehearsals.”  

Rehearsing is vital to any musical performance, but when the chance to perform at Alice Tully Hall in Lincoln Center is the end prize, preparation becomes especially paramount. Frank, the pianist of the group, emphasized the importance of the little things. “We need to focus a great amount on small details in the leading weeks to the competition,” said Blake Frank ’20.

“Without music I would definitely be a completely different person,” said Blake Frank ’20.

Having won the Lincoln Center Competition for the past two years, the group naturally has high hopes for this year as well.  “I would love to win,” said Ruby Hogue ’20. Their previous wins may also give them an advantage over other competitors. “Having won last year, we know what the judges are expecting and how to rehearse for the competition,” Emilee Kitmahawong ’20, the violinist of the group, added. However, they are aware that a win is not guaranteed. “Each year is different, we can’t always expect to win,” said Kitmahawong.

The dedication of these musicians is evident through their continued hard work, and commitment to honing their craft.  Both Frank and Kitmahawong have been playing piano and violin, respectively, since they were four years old. “Without music, I would definitely be a completely different person,” said Frank, adding, “Classical music is one of the things that makes me unique.”  Frank enjoys listening, playing, and even writing classical music.

Kitmahawong shares this strong connection to music. “By playing the violin, I have the ability to express my ideas without words,” Kitmahawong said. “I think that is so inspiring.”  In fact, Kitmahawong recently did some of her own inspiring. She visited the countryside of Thailand to teach children who don not have access to music programs how to play the violin.  “I thought it was absolutely incredible to be able to bring a smile to their faces,” Kitmahawong said.

Ruby Hogue has been playing the violin since she was six years old, and attended The School for Strings, a music school in Hell’s Kitchen, until eighth grade.  However, since high school began, she feels like she has not been practicing at the same level anymore. Instead, she has transitioned towards a greater emphasis on soccer.  She continues this particular competition though, because of her love for chamber music. “I really like chamber music, and I always really hated solo performances,” said Hogue.  Music has taught Hogue discipline, which in turn she has applied to school and soccer. Music has also connected her to her family; when Hogue was in middle school, she would go to her grandmother’s house, and they would practice together for at least an hour every day. “My grandma is one of the most important people in my life,” said Hogue. “I’m really close with her because we’ve spent hours playing music, just the two of us.”

“We have to go all the way out to New Jersey, and last year, we were out until one a.m. on a school night. That’s dedication!” said Emilee Kitmahawong ’20.

The first step for the group is also the most important part of the competition: the recording. In order to be considered by the judges, the quintet submitted a recording of their piece, which they recorded on December 19th, 2018. “We have to go all the way out to New Jersey,” said Kitmahawong, “and last year, we were out until one a.m. on a school night. That’s dedication!”

Sofia Mahairas
Mr. Paul DeSilva, Music teacher, assisted the group during rehearsals.

Their effort is definitely worth it, because the quintet recently found out that they won.  They will now have the opportunity to perform in Alice Tully Hall in May 2019, and they will also receive a Master Class from teachers at Julliar, to help to prepare for the big performance.

“I think it’s an honor to win this competition, because we competed against some of the most talented student musicians in the area,” said Hogue.  “It means a lot because we are representing each other and the school, but we are also showing our love and appreciation for classical music,” Frank said.